Reconciliation Begins with Disclosure of Accused Priests
December 20, 2013
We've long believed that public disclosure is a necessary step for the Catholic Church to restore its credibility after decades of stonewalling on child-abuse allegations. However, it took a court order to force the church to release the names after a lawsuit was filed against the Winona Diocese in 2008.
The plaintiff was Jim Keenan, who said he was 13 when he was first sexually abused in 1980 by Thomas Adamson, the priest serving at his church in Burnsville. Adamson previously served in Rochester and was moved from parish to parish despite several allegations of abuse that first surfaced in 1964. Records show Adamson's behavior was reported to church superiors at least six times, but the allegations were never reported to police.
The church resisted public disclosure, citing First Amendment protection of freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. The church followed canon law, which meant allegations were handled internally, not by local law enforcement.
Adamson served in the Winona Diocese from 1958 to 1975, when he was transferred to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which last month disclosed the names of 32 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.
Now 80, Adamson, who has become the subject of multiple civil lawsuits, was defrocked in 1984.
The church's adherence to canon law didn't protect the most vulnerable of its flock and allowed these crimes to continue. However, if child-abuse allegations are made now, Quinn said, "We don't investigate. We call law enforcement immediately."
That will provide some solace to victims, knowing future allegations will be investigated promptly by an outside party and bring more transparency to the church accused of shielding offending priests. Perhaps some degree of closure can begin for victims who will carry emotional trauma for the rest of their lives.
Public disclosure of the names won't end this sordid chapter in the church's history. In May, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Minnesota Child Protection Act, which opened a three-year window of opportunity for now-adult victims of past sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits. Long-silent victims, emboldened by this last chance for justice, are stepping forward.
Release of the names also lifts a cloud of suspicion that's hovered over other priests who served the church honorably for years. Now that names of the accused priests are known, those who aren't on the list can continue their ministries with their integrity intact. We also recognize the anguish of the faithful lay leaders who have endured these scandals for years and advised the church hierarchy to come clean about the allegations.
"There are no excuses now," Quinn said Tuesday in his apology.
It took decades of pressure from legal, legislative and internal sources for the church to be open about its offending clergy. Justice has been delayed, and we wish the church had cooperated willingly, but public disclosure is the first step toward reconciliation with victims of abuse and regaining the confidence of parishioners who had grown weary of the church's stonewalling.